Sunday, September 25, 2011

Introduction to "Blockland" as a Game Design Tool and the Making of "Super Meat Boy 64"

"Blockland" is an amazing game because of how many penises have been built in it. Wait, let me explain. I remember listening to a presentation on play in video games and the speaker mentioned that the depth of the play = how long it takes for someone to create or introduce a penis using the tools that the game presents. Obviously this formula should not be taken too seriously since after all it is just a clever joke and not all deep games give the player creative tools (in example, "Go" has a deep space of play, yet its rules do not define artistic tools that allow the player to create images such as a penis; though I am certain a penis has been made out of stones on a "Go" board).

I must apologize, the last paragraph might have been difficult to take seriously.

But the point is that "Blockland" presents this incredible toolbox that allows for the creation of all sorts of wonderful Lego like structures, functional and artistic, and that the boundaries of its creative space of possibilities will never be completely charted. This, when combined with networked multiplayer and a framework for constructing rule based minigames, provides a rather brilliant environment for game design. It is the perfect situation for practicing game design technique and some of the accidental features I have discovered in "Blockland" could potentially be in the future of professional design tools. I will elaborate further in my next post.

In the past "Blockland" has been used essentially as an engine for all types of games: simple arcade games, dogfight games, FPS games, racing games, Role-playing games, and even games that emulate the experience of being on a live game show. Basically, the environments in which this play happens are built out of an infinite selection of Lego bricks and then individual bricks are scripted to behave in functional ways (an example would be a brick that operates as a button; the player clicks it and a door somewhere opens up). Certain gameplay elements such as weapons, vehicles, player types, and terrain must be built outside of the game, but the community already provides so much content in these areas that anyone can hop in and start creating pretty much anything they can dream of. To see some of these neat creations, look into the gallery on the game's forum: Blockland Gallery (Pro Tip: The "Blockland" forums are not for the faint of heart; beware, most of the posters on there are extremely young and well... just look at the pretty pictures).

Anyways, recently a friend and I started work on a 3D platformer within "Blockland" based upon the hit indie game "Super Meat Boy." It was one of those projects that one is thrust into, skeptical of its merits from the beginning, but soon a strong appreciation for the project grows. At the end of this series of posts I will talk about the current state of the project, but for now I am going to go through each level in the first edition of World 1 and talk about both its design, history, and how it uses the great tools presented by "Blockland." It should be noted that this version of World 1 has been completely scrapped for a better, more thought out rendition. Nevertheless it still is of a good quality and it presents many things to both see and learn.

(I'm going to assume this image is hard to visually parse, so I'll explain what it is. This is a top down view of both the light World 1 and the dark World 1 found in the early rendition of Super Meat Boy 64.)

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